Dear fabulous women who attended the My Heart Sings Tuesday Women’s circle this week.

I’m writing to say I’m sorry.

On Tuesday, I was having a bit of a sh*t day. I was tired to the point of eyelids drooping. My period was due and my body ached. I’d argued with someone I love. My daily self-care practices had recently gone AWOL and I felt disorientated being back in a noisy, busy London after some time away.

And it showed on Tuesday night. My words refused to leave my mouth in the right order. I forgot what I was doing a couple of times. I wasn’t on form to lead the more-complex-than-usual harmonies I had prepared.

However, that’s not what I’m apologising for. I’m not the only vocal-leader – or indeed human being – ever to have not felt on top of my game, right? It happens to all of us. Life happens to all of us.

I feel sorry for not stopping and being honest about it. I’ve managed to do this a couple of times when leading past workshops. I’ve said that I’m feeling a bit tender and asked for understanding and support, which has been offered freely and kindly from you all.

On Tuesday I did neither. I zipped my body, mind and heart up tight and I dived into 50 lengths of going-for-gold front crawl when I was really only up for a bit of gentle paddling in the shallow-end. On a lilo. With a cup of tea and a chocolate hob-nob.

What happened next was predictable. My breathing got shallower. My jaw tensed. My shoulders came up to around my ears. I jumped up and down and ran around so fast that my legs resembled cartoon Roadrunner’s. I made occasional high pitched jokes about ‘losing it today’ but didn’t really soften my guard as I did so. Some people call this ‘styling it out’. I call it being hard on myself.

We live in a culture that expects us to ‘perform’ at our best, consistently. And when we’re not feeling at our peak, keeping our feelings hidden is a norm. Presenting an upbeat, brave face is even thought of as being strong and capable. Yet it takes immense courage to accept and show the parts of us which feel more tender.

Every single My Heart Sings workshop begins with some words and exercises to encourage being comfortable. Be welcome in the room as who you are, the whole you, and however you’re feeling right now. And watering the seeds of non-judgement; about loosening our sense of ‘getting it right’ and being kind to ourselves. I’ve loved seeing you wonderful women kick off your shoes or even fall asleep on the sofa while the singing continues around you. I’ve loved seeing you offer hugs and supportive words to each other and me.

I try to uphold these principles myself (perhaps most notably by stopping in the middle of one session to fling off my too-tight bra). For some reason, it didn’t go this way this on Tuesday. I’m sorry to me and to you all for not letting you see the whole me as I struggled with accepting my vulnerability. I’m sure I would have been met with kindness and perhaps some sisterly teasing, if I had.

Q2 smallPoppy image © Shilpa Shah

I’m sure many of you will have experienced a similar situation in your own lives and work. What can we do in the moment, that helps? These are the things that have helped me in the past:

  • Stop and breathe. Ask everyone to join me in 3-5 breaths, which can help calm the nervous system and allow more oxygen into the body.
  • Notice what I’m feeling. And pay attention to sensations my body – muscles held tight, heat in the face, my heartbeat. Feel the connection with the ground below my feet.
  • Say something about how I’m feeling, without apology. Trust in the soft ears and hearts of those around me
  • Have some words which I can say to myself, such as ‘I am enough’ or ‘It’s OK to be me’
  • Make a clear request for help, if I need it
  • Change the energy – take a short break, lead a different song, do something which moves the body if possible.
  • Do you have more ideas…….?

‘We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.’

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

I’m sharing this as a blog because I hope the words may strike a chord with readers. Thanks Guillermo for inspiring it with your story and the perfectly-timed reminder about being ‘enough’. Thanks also to Rif and Ama, for reminding me to never apologise too much.